Melbourne, Australia - What a bizarre start to the new F1 season. Kimi Raikkonen had problems on the grid. Michael Schumacher couldn't pass anyone. And both Red Bull-formerly Jaguar-cars finished in the points. We would've thought it was all a dream if it wasn't for Jacques Villeneuve holding up the rest of the field.
For Renault, it was more than a dream. It was a powerful statement. Giancarlo Fisichella busted out from pole and never looked back, throwing down one fast lap after another en route to his second career win. Teammate Fernando Alonso struggled with traffic in the early laps, but recovered for third. Rubens Barrichello took second for Ferrari.
B.A.R Honda? The team looked like they'd taken a step backward as the cars were off pace during the whole race. Jenson Button finished a lap down in 11th, mere weeks after claiming that victory for B.A.R in Melbourne was all but a formality. Way to call 'em there, Jense. Takuma Sato finished two laps down in 14th.
It took two starts to get the 2005 World Championship under way, after Raikkonen stalled his McLaren on the grid. After a second parade lap, Button lost grip at the start and gave up several positions just on the run to the first corner, ending the first lap in a disappointing 11th place. Both Hondas had been dealt a terrible hand in the first qualifying round. Heavy rains put Button in eighth and Sato hydroplaned, earning him a tough start on the back row. Neither driver could recover.
"I had a poor start to the race and I was losing up to three seconds a lap behind Villeneuve," said Button. "Once I passed him after the second pitstop the car was pretty good. The car ran reliably but clearly this wasn't the way we wanted to start the season and we have a lot of work to do to get back up to where we need to be."
Reigning champ Michael Schumacher also struggled with speed all race. He couldn't climb up from 18. Pit stop strategy lifted him up to eighth before he collided with Nick Heidfeld. This allowed Button and Sato to jump to 12th and 13th.
"It was a difficult weekend for all of us, particularly in the race with me starting at the back of the grid," explained Sato. "The team did a great job repairing the car for me for today and obviously I drove the best I could to recover some positions, but generally we were off the pace and we will work hard to turn this around for the next race."
B.A.R Honda technical director Geoffrey Willis pointed to reliability and consistent lap times as positives. "At the start of the race, both drivers struggled with poor tire warm-up and both found it difficult to follow other cars closely enough to give them the opportunity to overtake," he said. "In the last stint, once we were in clear air, the cars were much better and performed as we expected."
The team will have a decisive advantage when F1 hits Malaysia. B.A.R Honda called both cars into the pits on the final lap, exploiting a loophole in the new two-race engine rule. According to the rule, teams must use a single engine for the duration of two races. However, should a car run over half the race and not finish, then it will be allowed a fresh engine the following race. "This could be an advantage at a race where we normally encounter high temperatures," said Willis.